The government has finally published its long-awaiting Bill to reform the planning system. The main aims of the legislation are to cut the time it takes to process planning applications, to streamline the compulsory purchase of land and to simplify compensation payments made as a result of these purchases.

Main provisions in the Bill include measures specifically designed to handle applications for major infrastructure projects intended to avoid repeats of the ten-year long inquiry into building a fifth terminal at Heathrow. The legislation also allows for the creation of simplified planning zones to be identified in the strategic plan for a region or in Wales. An extra layer of bureaucracy, the county structure plans, will be abolished and local development frameworks will replace unitary development plans.

The publication of the Bill follows two consultations on the main policy proposals, one on planning reform and one on compulsory purchase, which attracted just under 15,500 responses. The consensus was that fundamental change is needed but the property industry remains concerned that unless more resources are made available to councils, little progress will be made despite the new legislation.

A key criticism of the current system is that decisions on big complicated applications are being held up while the Secretary of State delays making a decision. Research commissioned by Accessible Retail, formerly British Council of Out of Town Retail, earlier this year found that the costs of a public inquiry now run to over £200,000 and the outcome is seen by many developers as a lottery. But the Bill makes little attempt to deal with these political logjams

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